Folic Acid: A Healthy Start for Unborn Babies - FDA.GOV information
Your baby's health not only depends on what you eat or don't eat during your pregnancy. It also depends on eating nutritiously before you become pregnant.
If you're thinking about becoming pregnant, make sure you're getting enough folic acid in your diet. Folic acid is an essential nutrient that helps prevent common birth defects. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about folic acid.
"What is folic acid?"
It's a B vitamin that can help prevent neural tube defects in the fetus when taken before and during pregnancy.
"What are neural tube defects?"
Neural tube defects are common birth defects, which include:
- Spina bifida - a condition in which the spinal cord is exposed. A majority of babies born with this condition grow to adulthood with various degrees of disability, including paralysis and the inability to control bowel and bladder bodily functions. Many may require a series of operations and other treatments.
- Anencephaly - a condition in which most or all of the brain is absent. Infants with this condition die shortly after birth.
Fact: Approximately 2,500 infants are born each year in the U.S. with a neural tube defect. About half these cases are thought to be related to inadequate folic acid intake by the mother.
"Why should I take folic acid before I become pregnant?"
Taking folic acid before you're pregnant is essential in reducing the risk of birth defects. It's important to absorb folic acid in your blood so that when you do become pregnant, your baby will have a healthy start. Since neural tube defects develop 18 to 30 days after conception - often before you even know you're pregnant - taking folic acid is important both before conception and throughout your pregnancy.
"How can I get folic acid in my diet?"
You can get adequate levels of folic acid by eating the following foods:
- Leafy, dark green vegetables
- Legumes (dried beans and peas)
- Citrus fruits and juices
- Most berries
- Whole grains
- Breakfast cereals
- Fortified corn masa
In addition, women can get this essential vitamin by taking dietary supplements containing folic acid. See your doctor or healthcare provider for advice.